Friday, August 7, 2015

Tragic Thomas

Thomas Callin is, to me, the first of many firsts.

As near as we can tell, he was the eldest son of an eldest son, and he is the earliest of these ancestors to leave behind multiple records. He had to be a survivor - that much is evident in his story. But thanks to war, disease, and the other dangers of frontier life, he came close to leaving no legacy at all.

I'm sure I'm projecting a bit, but the Callin men in my contemporary branch of the family tend to be a bit clumsy. For us, it's not usually fatal - it often leads to minor injuries and embarrassingly preventable consequences. Most of our misfortunes are small enough to be laughed off (and maybe bandaged up), but Thomas's life, with its many tragedies, seems to have been plagued with the kinds of misfortunes that are harder to laugh off.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1801, Thomas would have been just old enough during the War of 1812 to have been aware of his family's vulnerable position as a farm in the middle of a growing American frontier. If his father, James (from our previous post, The Brothers Callin of Ohio) did have a sister carried off during a raid on their settlement (see The Perils of Polly (or Margaret) for that story), then Thomas would have grown up hearing that harrowing adventure around the fire, and experiencing the dread of attack from his earliest memories.

Thomas would have been about 9 years old when the family relocated to the new state of Ohio - a state younger than Thomas himself! - and there are some resources available if you want to learn more about what that would have been like. (I found a quaint book, and linked to it at the bottom of this post if you're interested - "Philip Seymour, or Pioneer Life in Richland County"written in 1858 and set in 1812.)

There is a lot we don't know about that time on the Callin farm. Thomas's uncle, John, arrived in 1816, about six years after Thomas's father did. I like to think adding seven cousins to the farm lessened the work load, and spread out the chores. According to the 1820 Census for Milton township, Thomas had four brothers and two sisters, and his aunt and uncle had added two more to their brood, bringing the total for both families to 17 cousins!

Sadly, this is when the first real tragedy struck, as sometime around 1820, James got involved in an altercation with a man named Fowler, who hit him in the head with a rifle and killed him. (The census does show a neighbor named Sutton Fowler, but without any documentation, there is no way to tell if that is the same person.)

Milton Township, Richland county, 1820
We don't have any evidence outside of George Callin's Family History, but according to him, Thomas married Nancy Burget in 1822.

The 1820 Census did show two households headed by Burgets - one named Thomas and one named Boston. From looking at the ages of the people in each of those households, I've concluded that it's most likely that Thomas and Boston could be Nancy's brothers, and that if she was living in either household in 1820, it might have been the one headed by Thomas Burget.

Marrying Nancy and setting up his own home on or near the family farm ought to have been a happy occasion for Thomas. I like to think of everyone getting along and working together, making a life like that you might have seen on Little House on the Prairie. But it can't have been without its share of heartbreak. The picture we have is murky, as the facts in our different sources don't paint a complete picture. But we'll do the best we can to piece together the family of Thomas and Nancy Callin.

The George Callin Family History (which I'm going to refer to as the "CFH") tells us that Thomas and Nancy's eldest child was a girl named Jane, born in 1823. But, there is no girl of that age listed in the 1830 or 1840 census, and even though George's account says she lived until 1879, unmarried, there is no Jane Callin listed in any of the subsequent census records for this family - nor is there such a person listed in Ohio for any of those dates. There is, however, a James of about the right age (born 1826) listed in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census records, living with his mother, Nancy. I suspect the CFH simply got that one little fact wrong.

Their second child, George, was born in 1825. (I guess that would make him the eldest, if my Jane/James theory is correct.) There is a boy the right age to be George in the 1830 and 1840 Census records, and while he is nowhere to be found in 1850, there is a George Callan the right age in nearby Vermillion, Ashland county, in the 1860 census, living with a family called Boyd. Military records support the CFH account that says he was killed at the end of the Civil War in 1865. He enlisted in Company G, Ohio 178th Infantry Regiment on 23 Sep 1864, and though the records say he mustered out on 26 March 1865, his unit was in North Carolina at that time, and counted 2 of their members as Killed at the end of the war. The CFH says he was shot by a rebel sharpshooter while on "pickete duty".

Both of these eldest sons died unmarried, according to all of the sources I have; their third son will be the subject of next week's tale: Thomas Jefferson Callin, born 1827. "Jeff" survived, thrived, and raised a large family of his own.

After him, depending on the source, there were two more boys and three girls; this is where things get both sad and hard to confirm. In the CFH, there are several children of Thomas and Nancy that are listed with the ominous note, "All died young." Mary Ann, Caroline, Emiline, Sally, Abel, and one unnamed.

We know that Mary Ann and Emiline survived until at least 1850, when they were 14 and 11 years old, respectively. The 1840 census shows two girls under 5, and one between 5 and 9 years of age. Mary Ann (1836) and Emiline (1839) and either Caroline or Sally could be those girls. The 1840 census also shows two boys between 5 and 9, but it isn't clear who they might be. Find-a-Grave says that Abel lived from 1838-1839, and the other boys mentioned in The Callin Family History are younger than that. While we have no record to indicate what their fate might have been. I would suggest that one of the many outbreaks of yellow fever or cholera which were known to occur at the time claimed at least some of these children.

Thomas himself seems to have died when he was right around the age that I am now - somewhere around 42. His family is listed in 1840 Milton township under his name, but in the enumeration, there is no male his age counted. There are the five boys under twenty, and three young girls, with one female (Nancy, most likely) between 30 and 39. Thomas's actual date of death is still a mystery; Find-a-Grave says 1861, but I would expect to have seen him in the 1850 and 1860 census if that were true. I tend to think that he probably died right around when his youngest son was born (Elliott, b. 1841 or 43).

The next child listed in the CFH is a boy named Marquis born in 1840. (If you're like me, you will always wonder if that is pronounced like "Marcus" or like the French "mar-KEE". Wonder on, American dreamer.) The book goes on to have Marquis marry Pauline Snyder, have two sons - Fred and John (b. 1871) - and die in Chicago, Illinois, presumably before the 1911 publication of the CFH. I have not been able to find a single record to support any of this. If Marquis has descendants out there, they remain a mystery.

(UPDATE: While putting the post for next week together, I ran across a 27-year-old "Munfer Callan" living in the 1860 Weller township household of Thomas J and Susan Callan - which is just close enough to what the CFH says about Marquis that this might be an elusive record of his life! The hunt continues... -T.C.)

The 1850 Census finds Nancy Callon in Weller Township, Richland county, with her son, the aforementioned James, two daughters, Mary Ann and Emiline, and the last of her sons listed in the Callin Family History: Elliott, whose birth date is either 1843 (per the CFH) or 1841 (per the Census). Interestingly enough, Nancy's 1850 household is listed on the page in between a Jefferson Callin (a newly wed Thomas Jefferson) and a Joseph Burget (no known relationship, but another tantalizing hint that Nancy's family is still nearby). In 1860, she is down to James and Elliott; and in 1870, only James remains.

Elliott appears to have enlisted in the 26th Ohio Regiment in 1861, which saw action at the Battle of Shiloh, and was deployed at the end of the war to New Orleans, and then San Antonio. Elliott died in 1865, at the hospital in Columbus, Ohio - never married.

I would love to learn more about Nancy; I know that she died in 1871, having outlived her husband and all but three of her children. Of those eleven children, after losing two to the war, and several more very likely to disease, only two survived to have families of their own. She must have been tough, but if we make a few reasonable guesses from what we see in the records, it's not too difficult to believe she had more family around her - between her brothers and in-laws, and what I hope was a close and supportive town.

But however quaint and romanticized the stories you read about the early days of America and life in 1800s Ohio might be, it's worth remembering just how steep a toll that life could take on those who survived it.

1 comment:

  1. Just so anyone who reads the Philip Seymour book I linked to understands where I'm coming from:

    I know this is story portrays the people native to the continent in ways that many of you will find very distasteful. I also find stories of the mistreatment of these people and the dehumanizing language used to describe them to be distasteful, but I felt that showing this example of how people in that time and place actually saw themselves and their displaced neighbors is an important part of understanding what our ancestors were like.

    Thomas Callin left very little behind to indicate how he felt about the world around him, so the best I can do to get "inside his head" is to find out how his contemporaries likely behaved and felt about the world.